Pain Remains Leading Cause of Disability

Back pain, sciatica, arthritis and other diseases of the musculoskeletal system are the leading cause of long-term disability in America, according to a new report on disability claims released by the Council for Disability Awareness (CDA).

Nearly one in three disability claims (30.7%) filed with private insurers in 2012 involved pain.

The CDA collected claims data from 19 major insurers, including Aetna, Mutual of Omaha, Sun Life, MetLife and Prudential, who provide disability insurance to more than 32 million workers.

Last year, CDA member companies paid over $9.4 billion in long term disability claims to 662,000 individuals who were prevented from working because of an illness or injury. While the dollar amount paid to disabled workers rose slightly in 2012, the number of workers receiving disability payments fell by about 2% from 2011, reversing a multi-year trend upwards.

“In the private industry, about 30% of the ongoing claims today are the result of the musculoskeletal type,” said Barry Lundquist, president of the CDA. “And that number has been increasing but not dramatically over time. It has been the number one cause of private disability claims for as long as I can remember.”

2013_chart_3Musculoskeletal diseases, as classified by the insurance industry, include arthritis, herniated disk, back pain, spine/joint disorders, cartilage sprain, tendinitis, fibromyitis, osteoporosis, rheumatism, scoliosis and sciatica.

Lundquist says the slowly improving economy appears to be having an impact on the number of disability claims being filed. In 2012, only 27% of the insurers surveyed said they had an increase in the number of new claims. That compares to 43% in 2011 and 56% in 2010.

“Historically you would see more claims when unemployment goes up,” Lundquist told National Pain Report. “The opposite seems to have happened in this most recent economic downturn. It seemed like a lot of people that maybe could have gone out on claim or could have qualified chose to keep working. One theory I’ve heard that makes some sense is that they’re afraid to leave their jobs because there may not be one there when they come back.”

“Somebody who’s 58-years old and has a really bad back might still choose to work, a fight through the pain kind of thing. But if they lose their job and have no source of income that might put them over the edge.”

Fewer claims for disability are also being filed with Social Security. For the second straight year, new Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claim applications and awards declined.

Despite the decrease in awards, a record 8.8 million workers – over 5% of the U.S. workforce – were receiving SSDI benefits at the end of 2012.

2013_chart_12Pain is once again a leading cause. From 1960 to 2011, awards for musculoskeletal diseases more than quadrupled from 8 percent to 34 percent of all new SSDI awards.

Lundquist attributes much of that to the aging of the workforce.

“The aging factor is probably the most important,” he says. “Over time these things get worse and people’s ability to recover diminishes.”

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